The NBA was always the best place for Luka Doncic.
As he makes the transition from EuroLeague MVP to rookie sensation, Doncic has been able to quickly become one of the most popular players in the league. With only about 50 NBA games under his belt, Doncic is looked at as a franchise cornerstone. The 19-year-old Slovenian, who inked a deal to make Fanatics his exclusive memorabilia distributor, said he’s happy to have a setup that allows “people are going to buy” products with his signature.
“I mean, it’s great,” Doncic said about people being interested in his autograph. “It’s great to see people want my signed things. It’s great to see that. It feels special.”
And while Doncic is already considering deals and partnerships he could attract later, he wants to focus on closing out his inaugural NBA season first. Despite being a professional hooper for years before coming to Dallas, there are still aspects of the league he is adjusting to.
For instance, Doncic said the trade deadline was “a whole new experience” for him. And with his Dallas Mavericks playing a part in two of the most prominent deals in the lead up to the deadline, Doncic was given a quick and hard reality check on how absurd deadline deals can be.
“I’ve never done something like that and I’ve never seen it,” Doncic said. “But I have new teammates, so we’ll see how it works out.”
Doncic “didn’t really like” seeing ex-teammate Harrison Barnes get traded during a game, and that a deal like that was “a new thing” to him. On the other end of the spectrum, Doncic said he’s “happy” to get the chance to play with Kristaps Porzingis, who he played against in Spain. It was a move that many praised. Team owner Mark Cuban said the pair of Doncic and Porzingis is one he wants to keep together in Dallas for 20 years.
Although Doncic might miss Madrid, Dallas may prove to be the perfect place to launch his NBA career. Besides getting the opportunity to showcase his talents and establish himself as the top player in his draft class early on, he also gets intimate access to one of the greatest European players in the history of the sport, Dirk Nowitzki.
In his 21st season, Nowitzki isn’t the franchise player he once was. But in the locker room, the 14-time All-Star and 2011 Finals MVP still provides immeasurable value to the Mavericks.
“A lot,” Doncic said about what he’s learned from Nowitzki. “I mean, he’s a legend. He’s a great person. He helps, not just me, he helps everybody. He helps them a lot. He’s been through a lot. I mean it’s amazing to have him in my locker room.”
The similarities between Doncic and Nowitzki help create the feeling Doncic found the perfect situation in Dallas. Like Nowitzki, Doncic was acquired by the Mavericks on a draft-day trade. With a step-back jumper that Doncic says is better than every player not named James Harden, he also has a signature shot that seems likely to help define his career. Unlike Dirk’s one-footed fadeaway though, the step-back isn’t exclusive to Doncic. That hasn’t stopped him from having one of the most lethal in the league.
One more similarity to Nowitzki: Doncic has already had to fight off the narratives that follow European players. His German teammate and future Hall of Famer was “too soft” for much of his career. Doncic was expected to be too slow and lack the necessary athleticism.
But here he is, averaging more than 20 points per game as the lead option on a team in the playoff hunt as All-Star Break approaches. “A lot of people here in the U.S. think the basketball overseas is a lot worse,” Doncic said. “But you know there’s a lot of excellent players in Europe, especially in the EuroLeague. If you play good in Europe, you can play in the NBA for sure.”
With his star growing exponentially by the day as people realize his skills are legit, the stage is set for Doncic to become the next big European phenomenon.